The Saudi Check


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The tragic debacle over the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi is like one of those infinitely disastrous moves on a chessboard that suddenly opens up your opponent’s men to any number of deadly threats, hopeless defense maneuvers, and an almost certainly forfeited game. Or it would do if you were determined to win at all costs, rather than intent on allowing him to hurriedly rearrange his board and continue on safely. Trump plays to his base with talk of job loss and multibillion dollar profits if a Saudi arms deal is scuttled. But what or who is the Canadian Liberal Party playing to with its own reluctance to sever an arms deal with the Kingdom? This contract was evidently negotiated and signed by the former Progressive Conservative government, so the Liberals won’t take any blame. There is apparently a clause citing punitive fines if delivery of the military vehicles involved is delayed for any reason. Another clause, furthermore, apparently prohibits details of the contract and deal from being made public. Ergo: the sale must go ahead, no matter what the Saudis have done or will do – is that it? We, the people, don’t like this at all. For a start, the unconscionable killing on foreign soil surely overrides any contractual arrangement, making the idea of Riyadh trying to collect a fine laughable. Secondly, we find the notion of secret deals and contracts within the arms business, or little military-industrial complex, both obnoxious and unconstitutional. The public has every right to know who Canada is selling military equipment to, whether it is a barbaric tyranny like Saudi Arabia or the most liberal of liberal democracies. We demand that the government take some severe, effective and globally just steps to express Canadian shock and dismay at this abominable act, along with numerous other recent Saudi abominations, from gross human rights abuses to the often-lethal persecution of minorities and dissidents, as well as all female citizens. A diplomatic wrist-slapping is very far from enough, although only regime-change, trade boycott and asset-seizure seem reasonably sufficient. I have little hope that anything at all will happen, because when a cover-up is covered up you can be sure something else altogether is afoot.


Mohammed bin Salman no doubt views himself as monarch of all he surveys, a courageous omnipotentiary and ultimate authority from Red Sea to Arabian Ocean. His belief in this case is relatively true enough. The country is indeed an absolutist monarchy posing as a constitutional one with rigged elections and a noisy fanfare about trifling freedoms now granted (women can drive – whoopee! – but there must always be an adult male in the vehicle too, which, I’d say, tarnishes the glory of freedom slightly). If MBS were intrinsically regal and even a little courageous, however, he’d admit sole responsibility for the assassination of Kashoggi, citing his reasons for unquestionably ordering the murder, no matter how unacceptable they might be to most of the world. He will not do this, of course, and not because his reasons would be unacceptable – his reasons would be humiliatingly shameful is why. There has been an attempt to vilify Kashoggi as a terrorist with ties to radical Islamists, but this has not yet worked, largely because it’s provably untrue. But even a fat-headed bully like MBS isn’t prepared to say, “I ordered his death because he insulted my ideas and abilities, which hurt my feelings…” No one is buying the fantastically lame explanation that Kashoggi started a fight in the Saudi consulate, partly because the crew of hitmen was sent to Turkey a day before Kashoggi had scheduled his visit to the consulate, but mainly because, even without knowing the journalist’s gentle nature, the idea of him or anyone intelligent alone in a consular building starting a fist-fight is ludicrously unlikely. What other rationalizations will emerge from these dunces? 18 men have apparently been arrested, so says MBS. But who are these men and what do they have to say for themselves? Where is the body, for example? MBS says the so-far-anonymous assassins – one an expert in autopsies with a bone saw in his luggage – handed over the corpse to Turkish allies, colleagues, whatever they were, and no one in the hit squad knows who these people, these contracted colleagues, maybe even random strangers, are or what they did with Kashoggi’s remains. Is this even vaguely believable, that a body is handed over to unknown locals? It might be tempting to think these puerile explanations are a nose-thumbing at the world, as was recently tempting with Czar Putiin’s GRU clowns and their botched murder in Salisbury; but, as it was with Putin’s operatives, the Kashoggi murder-cover-up-then-cover-up-cover-up is a cock-up of epic proportions. As Talleyrand said of Napoleon invading Russia, it’s worse than an mistake – it’s a blunder. But this blunder seems to be posing as many problems for the western liberal democracies as it is for Riyadh, because some sort of punitive response is increasingly necessary – or it is if you wish to continue enjoying credibility as a democracy and upholding your belief in rule of law. There have been frowns and tut-tutting from most western capitals, yet a curious inertia sets in when it comes to doing anything appropriate or even proposing a viable course of reaction. Why?


Only Israel can reasonably claim Saudi Arabia as an ally (an ally against Iran mainly), and there have been solid back-channel relationships between Riyadh and Jerusalem for decades. The Saudis of course don’t want this cozy hypocrisy to be broadcast to other Arabs, because a tribal solidarity is supposed to persist, and the only rallying-cry Arab nationalism has ever managed to concoct is an anti-Israel bias – not that this heals the Shia-Sunni schism, or indeed does much at all beyond fanning the sputtering flames of Palestinian dreams. So Washington’s Israel Lobby has some justifiable strategic concerns about a souring of relationship with the Saudis. But all anyone else has as an excuse for inaction is the vastness of Saudi investments in their nations’ industries and corporations. Someone else can determine how many trillions exactly are in Canada, and who they’re with, maybe even who they control, but you can be sure it’s an awful lot of petrodollars. Are we worried they might sell out and invest elsewhere? Reduce the story to a murder-mystery and you will see how such a response looks in the microcosm of reality, where clarity is always clearer. But this so far is the only response we can descry, and amid the vacillation you can tell deals are being done while damage-control creates more damage than it controls. MBS has photo-op with Kashoggi’s son – a harrowing ordeal if ever there was one for a mourning child of any age. What next? Faked videos of MBS and Jamal as bosom-buddies? Not many foreign leaders are in much of a position to make demands on Riyadh, but Erdvan in Turkey is one of them. Initially, he seemed to hold a lot of cards. There was the search of the Saudi consulate, with its freshly-painted-over walls, and then something about Kashoggi’s belongings found in the trash, but not much comes of this. More significantly, though, is the sudden silence about the recording allegedly broadcast from Kashoggi’s Apple wristwatch to the I-Phone he’d left with his fiancé outside the consulate. It supposedly records what happened inside before and during the murder. There are many in Washington who claim people in the NSA, or one of its many wings, have heard some or all of this horrific recording. If so, it can only have come from the fiancé, or else Turkish authorities. Only Erdvan would have the power to confiscate or appropriate the I-Phone recording, and failing that he must know where it is – but where is it? We hear no more about it in the media, this recording that supposedly makes clear what happened in that consulate. Will we soon hear no more about the whereabouts of Kashoggi’s remains? The pompous blabbering lies of MBS currently embarrass anyone who would agree to believe them, so consequently no one does claim they’re completely believable – although Trump and others have managed somehow to make MBS laudably credible while at the same time doubting whatever explanation he floats for the murder he can never reasonably explain. If you don’t like the way this is going, then demand to know from your MP or MPP, Congressperson or Senator, the full extent of Saudi investment in your country and how it would be impacted by any punitive measures taken against Riyadh, or even specifically against MBS, who is, inter alia, one of the world’s richest men, through no effort of his own, naturally.


If you look at a map of the Middle East, you will notice all the states there mostly have straight lines as frontiers, a sure sign of the colonial cartographer at work, rather than nature’s natural boundaries, the usual frontier markers. This map was essentially created in 1919 at the Versailles Conference to carve up empire in the wake of World War One, regardless of ancient tribal enmities or even their loyalties. The British, with their propensity for class distinctions, created the monarchies and emirates, largely to reward collaboration during wars with Ottoman Turks. One glance at the shape accorded frontiers of Jordan tells you a slapdash cartography, or perhaps malice aforethought was at play. Given the current lamentable state of the major Arab states – the ex-monarchy of Iraq, and the chaos of Syria – is it not time to correct the imperialist blundering with something a little more equitable, redrawing the map of Arabia to make smaller autonomous tribally-sensitive regions? Not that I favor a two-state solution to the insoluble Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a viable Palestinian state could be carved from Jordan-Syria-and-Saudi Arabia without anyone in those countries even noticing the loss of territory, and providing something more than empty rhetoric for the Arabs to give to the Palestinians they privately say are not Arabs at all (and thus excluded from the benefits of pan-Arab nationalism, if there ever are any benefits from it).  Besides the south-western area that could be part of a potential Palestine, Saudi Arabia needs to be divided into a Shia province, a Sunni province, and possibly also a Yemeni province, with resources and wealth divvied up equally. Not all Arab states are still living in the 16th century in terms of sensibility and governance, but Saudi Arabia is, with MBS a sort of Henry VIII-figure, murdering critics, or anyone at all, with impunity, no check existing for his power or enormities. Is it not time to do Saudi citizens a big favor by freeing them from this atavistic kleptocracy and the foul Wahhabi cult it has generated for a religion? Wahhabism is analogous to Nazism in having hate at its core. The opportunity to make tragedies result in triumphs is not to be squandered when it comes, and it is palpably here with this outrageous and despicable crime. Pack MBS off to London with a few billion to spend, and see how his subjects manage on their own? It is possible today, but the window is narrow. Yet such a response would be adequately appropriate to the behavior of MBS and his cronies, as well as making a tragic and unnecessary death serve some higher purpose. Returning West Asia to its old tribal domains would, I think, return the area to some stability. All the Saudi elites have is their money, and stripping their assets is the least their actions warrant, so regime-change brings no danger or deprivation to the Saudi masses, and it potentially offers enormous advantages. This conflict between money and principles will prove riveting, and involving a journalist, as it does, is going to be irresistible content for the media. I’m backing Money as the favorite.


Against Democracy


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“The inflexibility of the laws can, in some circumstances, make them dangerous and cause the ruin of a state in a crisis. If the danger is such that the machinery of the laws is an obstacle, then a dictator is appointed, who silences the laws.”


Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract


We may well wonder whether Rousseau is stating a fact here or being prescriptive, if indeed he discerned any difference between the two. Popularly viewed as the Father of the French Revolution, and hence a progenitor of European liberty, equality and fraternity, Rousseau is often mistakenly regarded as a proponent of democracy, which he indeed viewed as a perfect system of governance but, he stressed, one that would only work for a perfect society, a society he characterized, inter alia, as “one of gods, not men.” He was in fact an advocate of the simple life, an existence close to nature, in tune with natural cycles and the land. It resembles Gandhi’s vision of an India consisting of villages engaged in rural tasks and farming. These prescriptions for harmonious societies would seem to conflict and contrast with Plato’s Republic, which is distinctly a city-state, yet they all flounder on the concept of democracy, its meaning and function. For Plato, democracy – from demos, loosely ‘the people’ – is undesirable inasmuch as it results in mob rule. He charts four stages of rule: timocracy (rule by property-owners), oligarchy, democracy, and finally tyranny. By ‘tyranny’ he means essentially what Rousseau means by ‘dictator’, the not necessarily bad rule of a strong central figure, who steps in to correct the chaos of mob rule and unite the state. In the tribal or kinship-based societies of Africa, Melanesia and elsewhere, this is the “Big Man”, a perceived natural leader chosen for the position, not born to it. In post-republican Rome such a government was symbolized by the fasces, the commonly-displayed image of an axe bound around by sticks, origin of the word ‘fascism’. We have become so accustomed to thinking of democracy as good and, largely thanks to Nazism, fascism being bad that we now seem to be incapable of an objective view of either.


I will limit this mainly to the Canadian situation for brevity’s sake and because it’s where I live. What is democracy in Canada? Well, it’s a vote for everyone of age, a vote they can cast basically for one of three political parties, the winner forming a government, often with a majority in the House of Commons that allows them to enact whatever legislation or reforms they have promised from their electoral platform. The party with the next most votes gets to form an official opposition, and generally spends the next four years decrying everything the government does. The third party, nominally socialistic in ideology, and usually the New Democratic Party, has the luxury of criticizing both parties and proposing reforms it will rarely if ever be called upon to put in place, which creates a tendency towards the impractical if not the downright fanciful, and always prohibitively expensive. While the two main parties present themselves as dramatically divergent in ideology and outlook, citizens are forced to concede that when it comes to actual government there is very little difference between them, and certainly scant difference in the public effects of their rule. Taxes remain far too high; the cost of living steadily increases. Those who can tolerate the schoolyard cacophony of tuning into parliamentary shenanigans are frequently forced to admit the experience is far from salutary and often close to embarrassing. The time and vast amounts of money taken up by committees and commissions – the answers to all government dilemmas – is dishearteningly wasteful, as are the billions apportioned to boondoggles, foreign aid – when aid is needed at home — the military, and countless other dubious enterprises over which the average citizen, who finances them, has no say whatsoever. Ruling parties often come a cropper with corruption scandals, but are rarely called to account for them in any meaningful way, beyond, that is, being short of votes in the next election.


What is it that makes up a voter’s mind about which party to vote for? True, there are people who rather inanely and illogically always vote for the same party, presumably wantonly ignorant or uncaring of the position taken on current issues. Perhaps sadder still are those multitudes who vote for a leader they imagine to be attractive or personable, as if a seemingly nice guy or gal cannot fail to be a great Prime Minister. Then there are all those whose vote is based on some envisaged personal gain: Pot will be legal: daycare will be free. And so on. Besides the first group, whose opinion was concretized somehow in a distant era, all of these decisions are based on media coverage in some way, or perhaps we ought to call it media manipulation. The grating shallowness and vacuity of many voters is frequently highlighted by man-on-the-street interviews, where you hear either the repetition of some party boast or slogan, or else mind-boggling nonsense usually addressing the interviewee’s pet peeve. And it is the amassing, measuring and categorizing of such peeves that parties scrutinize avidly for new avenues of vote-trawling. 49 percent think there’s too much immigration? Well, maybe we should say there is too much? Or should we say there’s not enough? What do the 51 percent think? It has nothing to do with the issue itself; it is simply about the votes. This is what Plato means by mob rule, the dictatorship of uneducated masses whose vote is obtained by the chanting of shibboleths: the swamp will be drained; tax dollars will be used to benefit tax payers; economic equality will be striven for; et cetera.


Should everyone have the right to vote? Yes, but only if they can prove they know why they’re voting and what for. I proposed a voters’ test years ago, to be howled at: fascist, elitist, and so on. I propose it again. What is wrong with a simple test that proves you understand the issues at stake and the positions taken by standing parties? It strikes me that the only possible objections would be from parties now unable to bamboozle, wheedle and con votes out of a vast chunk of the electorate whose uninformed vote is no more meaningful than the yells of a hockey crowd. But the elected government will place inestimable importance on those votes, proclaiming them as the mandate to do whatever it was they promised to do – although the outcome is rarely anything like the promo for it, and, no matter what happens, the rich will get richer, the poor sink slowly, and everyone else will struggle to remain above water. The rule of law is a boon trumpeted far and wide, but justice is far from just. To the well-off, a hundred-dollar speeding ticket is nothing; to the poor it is a day’s wages, the difference between surviving and suffering a little. This is not remotely just. Nor is a system that makes justice a commodity you can buy: the rich man or the corporation with lawyers on staff or retainer can tie up someone of modest means in a lawsuit that will either bankrupt them or impel them to abandon a civil action that may be just and honorable. The same is true for criminal cases: the person who can afford a good lawyer usually gets a far better result. Our prisons are full of poor people. It is said that anyone can run for political office, but those who have explored the possibility discover you need far more than good will to succeed at this: you need money. Little wonder that the ruling elites of whatever stripe, most but not all of them, come from affluent backgrounds, and some are multimillionaires. Many are lawyers, who earn a thousand dollars an hour or more, and are also trained to present right as wrong, or wrong as negligible. Without inherited wealth it is difficult, but admittedly not impossible, to thrive in business. Big corporations receive government funds – tax dollars – that are frequently spent on giving top executives annual bonuses amounting sometimes to a lifetime’s earnings for the average worker, who is taxed mercilessly on a pittance, and then taxed whenever she or he buys or sells anything, seeks licenses or permits, and in many more insidious ways. In return we get the system, its laws and police, who are surprisingly unhelpful if you ever need their help, and intolerably rude if you fall foul of them in your vehicle. Then there is the health care, which private insurance has to fund anyway for those expecting top-notch care, and which in some provinces is scandalously bad. The inequities go on, and on.   Is this the democracy promised in its brochures? No wonder the young are not voting in ever-increasing numbers. They see through the charade, realize it is merely a performance called Democracy and designed to create an impression that we have one, as if changing parties every four years were the very soul spinning there in the body politic, new brooms sweeping clean, a change finally arrived, the nation great again. Could a business operate on such lines, the owner and employees gone every four years? Perhaps it could, but the real question is why would it run that way, considering the expense involved and an incoming staff, even a chief, with little or no experience of the work? In fact government ministries rely totally on a formidable excess of civil servants who are permanent, unelected and ready to work for whichever government comes next, no matter if they find its stated policies detestable or conducive. The ruling party is then, in very real terms, a façade designed to promote a certain image with its specific message or messages intended to create for citizens the illusion that these people are different. Millions are spent on marketing, branding, psychological studies, niche identification and the innumerable vagaries of leading-edge advertising in order to conceive, shape and create such illusions. Nowhere is more being spent now than on the political weaponization of social media and the Internet. The news that Russia was doing this at home and in our home ought to have galvanized some dog-hole in CSIS rather than, as was the case, setting lightbulbs ablaze inside the brains of campaign managers and strategists, who immediately asked, “Wow, well how is that done, eh?” This, instead of drafting legislation to stop abuses and nail the perpetrators. The circus will now be a CGI show, hard to tell from the real thing, and sending you – just you – news morsels it just knows you’ll adore, because you’ve clicked like thirty times on this or that. They’re vampires of attention, because once they have yours – with some trifle or innocent vice – you’re their creature, moving up to the next level. With referenda like Brexit or Catalan independence, the fear is that an organization on the lines of Cambridge Analytica will be able to sway the vote by fair means or foul. The 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty – to be clear, the dismantling of Canada – was very close indeed. A digital push and the minority becomes a majority. In the recent Quebec election, an extraordinarily large percentage of the electorate was still undecided who to vote for a day before the election. These are voters easily lured by misleading promises or unwarranted warnings.


Why hold elections every four years? It is the performance of that drama created so you will know beyond all doubt you dwell in a democracy, one which has of late taken to US-style braggadocio in trumpeting “the greatest country on earth” and seizing on those spurious statisticians who announce “Canada: best country on earth to live for vegetarian flautists and ballerinas of larger body-type.” Statistics, as we know, can be manipulated to show any result desired of them.  A poll or a chart is not, I’m afraid, going to give you even the faintest glimpse of what really goes on in the halls, amphitheaters, chambers, back rooms, cabinets, weekends on the links or in Bermuda, and in the many late night bars where big decisions are made. There is so much for the enterprising investigative journalist here, but who will print it? Objectivity is vanishing fast from the media, so unless a voter is willing to research a bit independently her or his vote may well soon be yet another commodity bought by those who can afford it. Democracy is no longer what it ought to be and is far from democratic. Is it time to change the system to one where there are no parties or leaders, just elected (and thoroughly vetted) experts running the nation for the nation?


Regarding Rousseau’s opening quote: One instantly thinks of Doug Ford’s move to shrink town hall. If I trusted Ford and believed his motives were purely altruistic, I’d have to concede that smaller government is a good thing, a thing to aspire to everywhere. But the whole Ford family is too hand-in-glove with big business to be trusted, no matter how much ‘populist sloganeering goes on. What is wrong with big business and a thriving economy, you ask. Nothing inherently, but a corporation is legally bound to make decisions benefitting its shareholders, and legally not allowed to make decisions which will reduce profits. Such restrictions particularly affect environmental issues. A costly waste disposal system that will greatly benefit the environment and is not mandated by law will not be built because its price will reduce profits. Capitalism is a fine way to create and expand a business, but to keep the share price and dividends growing profits must increase quarterly, no matter how this increase is achieved. Lay-offs, reduced quality of manufactures, and other cost-cutting measures often result from this, and as a long-term principle it has obvious problems. Such huge concerns contribute much and in many ways, not all of them legal, to political campaigns. This is not done from sheer altruism of course, and what these companies want in return are a myriad of things only governments can do, from rezoning land to acquiring permits and licenses for all manner of activities. Needless to say, some of these perquisites will not be in the public’s best interests. While Ottawa or Toronto is not infested with lobbyists for vested interests the way Washington is, Canadian politics is far from free of them. The health of the economy is always presented as something of unquestioned good for all citizens, but this is not necessarily so. The increasing privatization of major utilities is provably not in the best interests of anyone, except perhaps the new owners. Such concerns should all be state-owned since they are so vital to the welfare of all. I would include internet service providers in this group too, since the internet is no longer a luxury toy and indispensable to all, rich or poor, young or old. If any of our governments had a real concern for our well-being they would have nationalized all such utilities and operated them on a not-for-profit basis. Instead all have perpetuated the lie that nationalized industries are always badly run and costly. Ontario Hydro users can attest to this falsity, now paying some of the highest rates in Canada for a second-rate, callous and avaricious service. In short, democracy has failed us and continues to fail, continuing also to masquerade as something it is decidedly not. As we watch the steady decline and fall of America, riven by corporate greed and corruption, along with a broken political system, we ought to give serious consideration, we the people, to taking back our governance before it is too late. Revolutions must be planned carefully, to make sure that what replaces the old is not worse than it was. This requires prolonged study and the good will of all concerned; but I believe it is possible in this country, more than most in the West, to evolve a planning committee dedicated to a reasoned approach to replacing what is crumbling and atavistic with something that fully reflects the decency and egalitarianism of the public, while not exploiting the ignorance of some. Change is not just another slogan; it is a viable possibility with an intelligent population such as ours. A better society can only come into being through will, effort and a clear perception that what we currently have is collapsing and, if people of good will do not participate in the transformation, will be co opted by far darker forces, ones whose best interests are their own. I’d be interested in hearing arguments against this modest proposal and for the current system.


What To Do About Saudi Arabia


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It seems that Mohammed bin Salman is about to admit that the journalist Jamal Kashoggi has been murdered, but he has no idea who did the deed or why. Some think he’ll say a “rogue element” did it, but if so it had nothing to do with him. If such an admission comes, what will we, the West, do about it? Nothing comes to mind, l mean doing nothing. If overwhelming evidence points to you as a murderer, and the police arrive with questions, would “I know nothing about it” have the cops thanking you and going on their way? No. Call it the Russian gambit, and it only works if you’re the absolute despotic ruler of a country. When a Putin or a bin Salman are asked if they committed a crime, they deny it. Does anyone ever say, “Yep, it was me, I’m the one”? It seems laughable when the media report these denials as if they might even be true. Last month MBS was threatening Canada with punishment for criticizing what’s risibly termed his “human rights record” – a broken record if ever there was one. Our critique was not only justified, it was absolutely essential to clarifying Canada’s position vis a vis international law. Now MBS is quite clearly the man who ordered a murder on sovereign territory of someone whose crime was… what? Criticizing MBS, and doing it reasonably and justifiably. If we attempt sanctions or some other punishment for this barbarous and illegal act, says MBS, he’ll punish us back and harder. Am I missing something here?


It’s been a while since any head of state asserted his right to do whatever he feels like doing, since absolutist monarchies pretty much died out in 1793, when Louis XVI went to the guillotine. Even North Korea seems to know those days are gone now. So the kingdom of al-Sa’ud stands alone, one man at the helm and doing whatever he wants to do with no opposition at all. I explained a few blogs back how Saudi Arabia functions, its royal princelings and princesses in the thousands, it’s religion a travesty supposedly based on Islam, its reins of power now in one man’s hands – one man who exemplifies the cliché of absolute power corrupting absolutely. But let’s be clear about this religion of theirs. Wahhabism has as much to do with Islam as Mormonism does with Christianity, and its central doctrines are ones of hatred and intolerance, vehemently towards “infidels” of course, but also towards all sects of Islam with the exception of Sunnis, who are nominal patrons. The lucrative control of Islamic holy sites, Mecca and Medina, is in Saudi hands, meaning the Shia, Ismailis, Sufis and many others cannot make the prescribed Haj pilgrimage under Wahhabi law. This law also condones mistreatment of non-believers, particularly us infidels, who can be robbed, cheated, defrauded, lied to, and abused in numerous other ways with impunity and the sanction of the Wahhabi faith, if you can call it that. So MBS has no spiritual qualms about lying to most of the world, although I doubt if the fate of his soul is something he gives much thought at all to. So here we have this barbaric throw-back to a medieval sensibility acting as if it’s a superpower, waging a unjust and brutal war in its back yard, treating women as chattels, beheading homosexuals, imprisoning anyone for any reason, with no rule of law worth the name, and now assassinating critics on foreign soil for reasons so flimsy they’re not even mentioned anymore. This is not some impoverished cess pit in the lower third of the Third World either. It is per capita one of the richest nations on earth, although these riches are controlled by around a millionth of one percent of the population. But to keep the hoi polloi docile the amenities and infrastructures are good, a hospital on every block, the cities clean and virtually brand new. There are really no rural areas to worry about since the rest of the country is basically a beach. Besides the total lack of any rights, there’s not much to complain about – unless you’re female.


Here’s a story I heard from a horse next to the horse’s mouth. One of the Saudi princesses, one of the thousands, went to study at the American University in Cairo. She found the slums and poverty of Egypt intoxicating, “so real” she said “after the sterility of my homeland”. Real life was appealing, as it can be. At university she met and fell in love with a westerner, a tall blond American boy. She told her family she intended to marry him and live in the US. The family blew up, ordering her home. She knew enough not to return, because she knew what happened to girls like her. But her brother, who she was close to, persuaded her to meet him in Cairo and discuss the situation amicably. She went to the meeting, where she was kidnapped and flown back to Riyadh in a private jet. She was locked in a special room on the roof of her family house. There were no windows, and she was forbidden any visitors and all conversation. Food was shoved in through a slot in the door. She’s been in that room now for fifteen years. Her food is still taken in, so she’s alive. But those aware of the situation believe she is now completely insane. This is Saudi Arabia. This is the place we are wondering how to punish for a state-sanctioned murder on foreign soil. And Donald Trump found MBS thoroughly convincing when he denied all knowledge of malfeasance. What exactly is going on between the US and Saudi Arabia?


The United States of Amnesia no doubt forgets now that the only airplane allowed to fly after the Twin Towers fell on 9-11-01 was the one taking members of the Saudi Royal family out of America. Why them and no one else? Well, the Saudi ambassador in those days, Prince Bandar, was to so close to the Bush family that he was affectionately known as “Bandar Bush” – and of course the Bush family business is oil. There’s another factor too: most of the 9/11 terrorist hijackers were Saudis (the rest were Egyptians), something never properly explained, researched or really even pursued. Instead, Afghanistan was bombed, and then Iraq was invaded. The fog of war conceals most irritating details. It does not, however, occlude the fact that funding for al Qaeda and Islamic State, along with other violent factions, comes principally from the Wahhabi clerics, who share Saudi wealth with the princes. It’s an hereditary clan, like the Mafia. Fast forward to now, and what do we find going on? Well, Trump’s son-in-law, the ubiquitous Jered Kushner, is said to have close ties with MBS, who himself is reported to have said, “Trump’s family is in my pocket”. Breaking with tradition, the first state visit Trump made as president was, not to reliable allies like Canada or the UK, but to, yes, Saudi Arabia. Why? What was discussed? We don’t know. But Jered Kushner is not a government employee, so his close ties must be about private business, no? The president burbles on about this $110 billion deal that’s in jeopardy, apparently, if the US imposes sanctions on Saudi Arabia. Oh, the jobs in danger, the GDP tanking, the sheer horror of losing any deal! But $110 billion is a pittance compared with the Saudi trillions invested in US corporations (they’ve got a pile in Canada too), especially aerospace and the arms mega-business. There’s been a lot of Saudi-US chatter over the past few days, and I imagine it’s about these invested trillions. MBS makes a few hundred million daily, so a few billion isn’t even worth his while. The question is this: Are the Saudis threatening to pull out their trillions and invest them in China or, God forbid, Russia? Or are the Americans threatening to confiscate Saudi assets wherever they’re to be found? This long and mysteriously chummy relationship can only be about money, money mainly in the form of oil. The combo of oil and money leads us inexorably to the venerable old Military-Industrial complex, which lives entirely on oil and money. The Trump family, individually and collectively, are heavily invested in this hydra-headed monster churning out death in a myriad of forms, and consequently needing many small wars running all the time to keep the supply-line busy. The Saudis obviously have a spanner somehow poised to be thrown into these works; otherwise who’d care what happened to them?


As I said last time, seizing Saudi assets would be an appropriate and deservedly painful punishment, because a punishment there surely has to be? The kingdom would make an amusing theme park, Despotworld or Tyrantland. But the situation is not really amusing enough for satire. Instead I will leave you with some wise words from one of the few wise men left in America:

“Let me finally return to Dwight Macdonald and the responsibility of intellectuals. Macdonald quotes an interview with a death-camp paymaster who burst into tears when told that the Russians would hang him. “Why should they? What have I done?” he asked. Macdonald concludes: “Only those who are willing to resist authority themselves when it conflicts too intolerably with their personal moral code, only they have the right to condemn the death-camp paymaster.” The question, “What have I done?” is one that we may well ask ourselves, as we read each day of fresh atrocities in Vietnam—as we create, or mouth, or tolerate the deceptions that will be used to justify the next defense of freedom.

— Noam  Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” (1967).

The beat goes on and on and on, so where are those intellectuals willing and able to take responsibility for this latest abomination? What is it that is all it takes for evil to succeed?

Saudi Barbaria


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When Saudi Arabia threatens Canada for demanding the release of women’s rights activists there, my first reaction is to laugh, because I’ve always thought the place wallowed proudly in its panoramic abuse of human rights in general. Let’s take a look at this puffed-up, backward stretch of oil-rich sand, more a family business than any kind of state.


Cobbled together by Ibn Sa’ud, patriarch and owner of many goats, in the 18th century, it was a fractious confederation of semi-nomadic tribes, from each of which he took a bride, until British colonial plunderers gave it the nod as a “kingdom” – meaning it might have some utility as an “ally”, should the need for one arise. Then along came a man named Wahhab, according to his own parents deranged, who saw himself as, not a second coming of the Prophet Mohammed but a far greater being, one destined to be Caliph of the entire Islamic world. His version of Islam, essentially a heresy, resembled a penal code of unbendable rules, many of which ostensibly outlawed pleasure, music, dancing, and so on. Ibn Sa’ud saw great virtue in an alliance with Wahhab and the sponsorship of his “faith” chiefly because it solved his most frustrating problem. What the old sand-pirate craved to do most was raid the rich caravans coming from Persia, but Islamic law forbade a Muslim from attacking and robbing other Muslims. Wahhabism, however, maintained that other forms of the religion – Shia, Sufi, Aluwite, Ismaili, etc. – were not Islam, were in fact infidels who should be attacked and robbed. The Persians were of course Shia. This was music to Ibn Sa’ud’s ears’ and so a deal was struck which essentially divided the kingdom equally between princes of his house and Wahhabite priests. The caravans from Persia were now legitimate prey, and hostility between the two places remains bitter to this day. The Kingdom likes you to think its national religion is orthodox Sunni Islam, yet it is not. Proof of this came early too. When the Saudis annexed the holy city of Mecca, traditionally held by Hashemite Sunnis, there was inordinate bloodshed. But the biggest problem arose during the first Haj pilgrimage, when Egyptian Sunni pilgrims marched towards the city singing their traditional Haj songs. What to do? Remember, singing is banned in Wahhabism. After some debate, the Saudi troops slaughtered all the Egyptians, men, women and children, which adroitly fixed that dilemma. The Brits, who regarded the Middle East as their bailiwick, didn’t care what Arabs did to other Arabs – or didn’t care until there was a reason to care.


This came with oil, which it was agreed would be co-owned by Brits and Saudis. Under numerous distracting corporations, to avoid accusations of monopoly, this arrangement still continues, orient and occident, with America now more of the occident. By the seventies, everyone knew the Saudis were fabulously wealthy, because princes from the hereditary family business were throwing their money around in all the casinos and whorehouses of Europe. But what of the equally hereditary priesthood, who could hardly be seen at gaming tables or in brothels? What did they do with their share of the loot? Well, sad to say, they invested in spreading their despicable heresy around the globe with free schools and mosques (hard for a poor nation to refuse) that all espoused the hateful creed, that still vehemently denounces other forms of Islam (except the Sunni form, of course), whose adherents are recommended for execution, or indeed whatever enormity you fancy visiting on them.


I will state unambiguously that Wahhabism, the Saudi state religion, is entirely responsible for all so-called Islamic extremism, from Al Qaeda to ISIS and beyond. The notion of founding a “caliphate”, a major preoccupation of these factions, is precisely the same megalomaniacal fantasy that Wahhab himself dreamt up. Osama bun Laden, the 9/11 bombers, the Taliban, and every other murderous maniac crawling around the planet’s less fortunate areas – all Wahhabis or funded by Wahhabi money. Fact.


And these are the people – inspired by their new and obnoxiously self-important Crown Prince – who now threaten us? Saudi Arabia is the only place I have ever been that I thoroughly detested, whose menfolk – for the womenfolk are all imprisoned – I found uniquely uncivilized, whose culture I found non-existent, and whose social mores I found completely barbaric. Homosexuality is punished by beheading. Freedom of speech is unheard of, and if it peeps a teeny bit gets a minimum of a thousand lashes. A joint of pot is worth 20 years in jail or worse – and in Saudi Barbaria twenty years is at least twenty years. It goes on and, as I said, I thought they were pleased and proud of this medieval intolerance. Now I find that posturing buffoon at the helm is touchy about being advised to catch up with international laws… well, I’m inclined to say, ‘Let’s invade and free the women, along with everyone who is not a prince or priest.” Those parasites can be set to work building a submarine zoo for themselves.

Misappropriation of Reason


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With the closing of Robert le Page’s Slave, a musical of traditional slave songs, whose crime was having a white lead singer, an intensely irritating fly in the social ointment needs once again to be plucked out with tweezers and left to dry in the sun somewhere far away. For those in a rush who just want a bottom line, a slogan to pluck out like a brolly when rain falls from the clouds of cultural fascism, here it is: “cultural appropriation” is a two-word phase whose components are mutually exclusive – like, say, “jello engineering” or “dental confabulation” – which renders the term meaningless and the concept non-existent in reality. There is then no such thing as cultural appropriation, or its companion in semantic folly “appropriation of voice”, which in its overweening arrogance and pomposity tells me I have no right to include African or aboriginal characters in my stories, because only they are allowed to use their voices and will not be my ventriloquist’s dummy. We’ll get back to this captious twaddle.

Let’s examine what happened to Robert le Page’s musical, in so far as we really know what happened, at least. Is there anything inherently wrong about a white person singing songs originating with African slaves working the southern plantations? Of course not. How could there be? For if there were the whole history of American pop music would be wrong, since all its roots were sunk deep in those cotton fields back there in the beginning. Robert Johnson had the blues, so is that what permitted him to sing them? But are we then suggesting that Eric Clapton, the Stones or Led Zeppelin are too wealthy to get the blues so have no right to sing them? I trust not, because blues are a ubiquitous feature or malady of homo sapiens — one man’s not remotely comparable to another’s in terms of crushing severity. Who can say if Robert Johnson’s miseries were any worse or any better than Clapton’s, a man whose only son accidentally fell to his death from the window of a Manhattan skyscraper, a man who suffered heroin and alcohol addiction, laudably overcoming these demons. If blues cannot be compared per se, what then is left to differentiate between singers? Only skin colour, which may be a crude indicator of class in endemically racist America, yet even there, not to mention across much of the world it indicates nothing of the sort. When the controversy over Slave first arose, Le Page pleaded for his potential audience to see the production first, see what he had done with it, before passing judgement. It seemed the only possible rational response to a hubbub over something protesters had not in fact seen. What they’d heard about – white woman in lead role singing black songs – was more than enough proof for them to be utterly certain this was just more of the same old exploitation and abuse. Why, it was scarcely any different from enslaving us to pick Le Page’s cotton till our figures bleed. You pictured him prowling his stage in white straw panama, loose linen suit, a cheroot clamped between his yellowed teeth, and the bullwhip cracking as he demanded more heft behind that bale. O Lordy! The CBC had a virtual ER of overexcited Afro-Canadian objectors, one of them asked why she didn’t take up Le Page’s offer and see the show first before complaining about it. “I don’t need to see it,” she screamed in outrage. “Do I need to see the hotplate where I burnt myself to know it hurt?” The host was no more certain about this analogy than I was. “I know it will cause me more of the same old pain, so why would I subject myself to that?” No one dared venture the obvious answer: Because it might not be what you think… This attitude is, I suggest, essentially no different from the one in Nazi Germany that said all books and art by Jews are poisonous monstrosities and must be burned. If there was someone who suggested the books ought to be read first in case some weren’t poisonous monstrosities, he was probably thrown on the pyre as well to burn on top of Marx, Freud, Kafka et al. For this is facism, which loves censorship, and this is mob tyranny, which hates freedom of speech, and indeed most constitutional rights.


Although never stated as such, the real argument was basically that to sing slave songs you had to have come out of the slavery culture. Someone might just have a great-great-grandmother living who could honestly claim to have come from a “slavery culture”, but the great-great-granddaughter can only claim knowledge of post-slave culture, which was admittedly often worse than slavery, but still no worse in essence than that suffered by working classes the world over, and indeed sometimes even a little better. To hear millennials talking about the legacy of slavery in their genes or souls, the ongoing bitterness of it, its eternal penumbra shadowing their lives, it all made recall the TV shows, songs and dramas where this sort of emotional language was forged, and where their sort of neo-Baldwinesque rage personae were released to roam the Afro-American psyche. My people were also persecuted periodically, despised and abused, even enslaved, but I don’t feel their rattling tribulations smashing around my subconscious. They were other people, ones I never met, and they were long ago. It could happen again, and vestiges of it do occasionally surface here and there. But all in all things have changed and I’ll take my chances in a different world. Sure, ancestors of the old enemy roam in our midst, but these are mostly far from the old enemy themselves. They’ve changed as everything changes. If these objectors have been taught that the past is still present, then they have been ill-taught, for a lie is no lesson. Let their teachers un-teach these errors, especially the error of thinking that the past can be undone, rearranged to suit the present and its new needs. No historical revisionism, and certainly no apologies from officialdom unable to apologise for crimes in which they had no part, and no mollycoddling exceptionalism in society can ever alter what was done long ago. It may even be damaging, because the pendulum swings both ways, and if one pushes it too hard, the other will find its arc scoring a far larger swath over very different territory. What was gained will then be lost.


A less popular way of seeing all this is its reflection in an essentially neo-colonial attitude of indulgence. Ah, it’s only the blacks and the Indigenous. They’ve had a rough time of it, so let’s indulge their whims, eh? They don’t have much, so no wonder they’re trying to hold onto it. Humour them, because who really cares anyway?

In short, treat them like the children we’ve always regarded them as in our patriarchal world-view. That is not my world-view, however, and since I never had a father I don’t really understand what a patriarch is – except to know I don’t want one. I address all you culprits as adults, so kindly cease and desist your promotion of nonsense about “cultural property”. Such a thing is imaginary. It is not like intellectual property, which is someone’s creation. Feathers, beads, dances, drums, work-songs, foods, speech-patterns, none of it and any of the rest is the work of any individual. Traditions created them over centuries, and traditions are streams flowing from every direction into the river you think of as yours. Well, it’s mine too, brother. One of those streams is me, sister. You want a better world? Then help make it by knocking down your imaginary enclosures, you walls and fences, because the only better world there can ever be is one multi-world, where all are earthlings first and foremost, and then whatever they want to be after that. The human genome is the same in everyone, so, in scientific terms, race does not exist unless it’s the human race. When you tell me what I can and cannot do with my imagination, it makes me want to unpack all of your conceits and ill-informed assumptions. But you must know what they are, how much of what you now consider yours is actually from the hated colonisers. Even your beloved bannock, even your steel guitars… even your religion and sometimes your name too. Who has whose cultural baggage?


I notice lawyers on the whole stay out of this, knowing as they must that a can of worms the size of Trump Tower lies beneath it, waiting hungrily for the first fool to launch a suit and feel the floor beneath him deliquesce as he falls forever through an eternity of wriggling worms. The case might be something like: Cinderella is a Teutonic cultural artefact and cannot be adapted to suit the needs of an Urdu movie. After expert testimony from seventy witnesses, the court will be wondering if Cinderella originated in Indonesia, Africa, Asia Minor, Iceland, among the Sioux or Lakota tribes, in Tierra del Fuego, Uruguay, and any one of a few dozen other places where versions of the tale exist in one form or another. This will make Jarndyce and Jarndyce seem like summary justice. For it could never end, since all mythologies and all languages spiral down into a single vat at the end. It is of course all interrelated, so no one can appropriate what is theirs to begin with. You who pride yourselves on being more attuned to the mystic than the rest of us ought to use the facility to put your facts where your myths are. Do not divide, unite, as you claim to believe we must all do.


There was one plaintive but truer note in all the jargon and sloganeering over Slave. Someone said the lead role should have been given to a black singer because she was herself a black singer and could use the work. Honest if naïve. That a director of Robert le Page’s stature and radiant resume could be suspected of racial bias is preposterous and insulting. Anyone aware of his work could only be certain that he’d select as his cast the very best performers who auditioned for each role. The production itself could also be presumed to represent his finest work given whatever limitations might have existed, and his greatest efforts under any circumstances. I imagine the backers closed it down, thinking, like all moneymen, of the bottom line and any damage to their reputation. Put quotes around “thinking” because it’s only their euphemism for reacting. Had anyone actually thought, they would have realised this nonsensical codswollop could be stopped with a little pertinent straight talk. But political correctness – another vile misnomer – is a creeping distemper in the arts community reminiscent of the 80s herpes scare. You can be afflicted by someone who doesn’t even know they’ve got it. You can catch it by sharing a meal or a doorknob. And when you’ve got it you will lose all your friends and have to consort with others similarly afflicted. The slightest hint of a derogatory remark, even an innocent query – isn’t basket-making more of a craft than an art? – will see you flung into the outer darkness. So no wonder an Achilles did not appear to shout from the ramparts: “There’s no such thing as cultural appropriation!” But you’d have thought at least someone would have echoed Robert le Page’s suggestion, his very fair and reasonable suggestion: see it first. But none did. Those unwilling to defend imagination and the arts from censorship and tyranny in a thousand forms deserve to have no arts at all, since they already lack the quintessential imagination to house them and the vital courage to follow them wherever they lead.


Star Wars Redux?


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Last week, amid the outcry against grotesque in humanity at the Mexican border, President Trump – how those two words still sit so uneasily together, so incongruously! – ordered the Department of Defence and the Pentagon to create a sixth branch of the US Military he called Space Force. Its purpose? To make America great again beyond the ionosphere, out there in the universe. Another branch of the military? It does sound like the weaponization of space, doesn’t it? Well, a very clever East Indian fellow, whose name old age currently prevents from recalling, drafted the International Law governing outer space, and among the many clauses in this law, approved by the UN, is the prohibition of weapons there. It also declares all off-world bodies, moons, asteroids, planets, international territory, whose resources, if any, belong to the world as a whole. This may sound chauvinistic to any Venusians or Martians looking on, but from our point of view it certifies the solar system, the galaxy, and indeed everything else, as the communal property of our planet, the one presumed to be discovering everything. It’s not unreasonable, and won’t be until someone else comes along. Possibly no one has told Trump, and you can be certain he’s never read about it himself, that the Reagan-era Strategic Defence Initiative, popularly known as Star Wars, was in fact a sham designed to spook the erstwhile Soviet Union into throwing in the towel. That and an undermining of the economy by means of luring them into Afghanistan actually worked. The Soviet Union was bankrupted by trying to keep up with American financial exceptionalism, and the glorious age of Putin was born. Star Wars was a theoretical system of “death-star” satellites capable of shooting any incoming hostile missiles out of the middle air long before they reached America. Digital videos of the whole kit and caboodle looked very sci-fi and effective, as satellites zapped away at incoming threats left, right and centre, the lasers terminating old-fashioned missiles the way they do in video games. The trouble was that this in itself was a video game. The Pentagon of course never bothered to announce that the SDI was indeed a marvellous idea, but also one so expensive that the entire world together couldn’t afford it. Better dead than bankrupt was the message. But Russia and China believed SDI was in the works, and, unsurprisingly, thirty years later both of America’s eternal foes have rather pitiful versions of “death-star” satellites that can, or sometimes can in publicized tests, zap the satellites that pry into secretive doings on their stretches of earth or threaten their own wastelands of space junk. You can’t have this coercion going on, can you? Ergo: Space Force.


Let us theoretically posit that the UN’s Security Council is a monstrous aberration that negates the purpose of the entire rather useless organization. It’s just an hypothesis. So why is it that members of this Security Council always include Russia, China and America, with lesser, very grateful nations given a brief peek at what the big boys do? And what those big boys do – let’s call them RAC – is whatever the fuck they like. If criticized at all, it is by fellow big boys. All three of them have now broken space law, and who is calling for punitive measures? Perhaps no one? At least the international outrage is so muted that this latest American response – always belligerent – is… Space Force, war in outer space, more shame for this planet, if that is anyone else is watching. No outcry so far, no gnashing of UN teeth, probably because 95 percent of the planet views space exploration in much the same way as it views immortality. Yet for the rest of us the weaponization of space is very real, and a very real threat on the same level as the race for atomic weapons. The testing of “death-star” satellites way up there in the endless night will have unpredictable effects down here, from the disruption of telecommunications and data storage systems to the ever-more-likely event of space junk, a few tons of scrap metal, hurtling down to land in your kiddie park or wherever. The consequences of an actual shooting war up there are unthinkable.


Yet there he is, Space-Admiral Trump, the uniform tight, muscle-defining, as he salutes another platoon of space warriors on their way to do battle with Darth Putin’s scaly scum or the Beijingons. And no one objects? And no one points out that this is in fact illegal? Let the facts be facts, and life the thing it can, by all means, but don’t see yourselves as innocent bystanders when you can’t be bothered to rebel against monstrosity when it rears up on your watch. If we aren’t prepared to die for certain principles we have no principles at all.

The G6-Plus-One Summit


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A state that has to protect itself with military from its own citizens is, in Plato’s terms, a state sliding down the slippery slope from democracy to tyranny. This is what happened over the last few days at the summit of western industrial nations here in Quebec. Police outnumbered demonstrators. They may have been called “police” but for all intents and purposes they were the government’s private army – in fact their actual function at all times – in full riot gear, with shields, staves, guns with real and rubber bullets, flak-vests, and tear-gas launchers. It is a worrying spectacle to hear of a police force, allegedly existent “to serve and protect”, clad to do battle with those they’re supposed to be serving and protecting. Worrying too is the news that most demonstrators stayed away because of the massive and unwarranted police presence. This is not what a free society is all about, and it has been dismaying to watch as freedoms have been gradually given up, supposedly in the interests of public safety. As was said by wiser lips, “Those who would give up freedom for a little security deserve neither freedom nor security.” And the cost of this police-state jamboree? $600 million, we’re told. But with this cash-happy Liberal Government, no doubt it will eventually top a billion Considering the G7 debacle in Toronto several years ago, when hundreds of demonstrators were wrongfully arrested, also at an immense cost, why should taxpayers be expected to foot such inordinately steep bills? Who cares where western industrial dignitaries have their pointlessly inconclusive meetings, meetings their so-called “Sherpas” – insulting to the real Sherpas – basically have for them in advance anyway? Let them take place on a private island somewhere, with a few boats as the security.


One thing we know about Donald Trump – perhaps the only thing we know for sure – is that he’s no gentleman. One of the privileges, probably one of the few, accorded to the mayor of the small town where this summit was held was the right to personally greet arriving world leaders, no doubt for a photo-op. But not Trump. Oh, no. He was far too grand and important to handy-dandy with so lowly an official. He arrived late and cut his visit short too. How obnoxiously insulting to the leaders of the only countries America can really rely on as allies! The man is so far beneath contempt his head or arse must be poking out in Australia, and his contempt for his peers is pushing the US ever further into the backwater it’s destined to occupy for the rest of history unless policies and attitudes change. It’s not such a powerhouse anymore. The leaders themselves have been calling the erstwhile G7 the G6-Plus-One for some time now, with the US pulling out of or refusing to sign mainly climate accords. If this goes on, it will just be the G6, and as such can still competently lead the western industrial world without Washington. We know from Trump’s disastrous lack of success in business ventures over the past couple of decades – only Russian banks would lend him money to continue – that business is not his forte. Marketing is that. But to hear him at the summit declaring that Russia should be present as a member was rich beyond belief. In fact Russia was kicked out of what was then a G8 when Putin invaded Crimea and attacked the Ukraine. They won’t be allowed back either, or not until they reform their policies. America may well be heading in the same direction. Trump’s lack of business acumen, manifest in his trade tariffs, and his unwillingness to read reports or to be advised, clearly prevents him from knowing that the Great Depression wasn’t caused by a stock market crash – the only disaster he seems to comprehend. It was caused by a trade war, the kind of war he imagines is easily won. In your dreams, scumbag, in your fetid dreams.


How To Respond


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The preeminent German news magazine Der Spiegel  is suggesting that we cancel the G-7 meeting to be held soon here in Quebec. Why pretend cooperation with Trump, they say, when he makes enemies of his allies? The meeting won’t be cancelled, for dialogue must go on or else all is lost. But I think it marks the beginning of an isolation that America will regret in years to come, as she slides into global irrelevance. In his Republic, Plato has Socrates define four types of unjust governments into which decaying societies successively fall on their way down: timocracy, which is the rule of spirited big property-owners, oligarchy, democracy, which to him deteriorates into mob rule, and tyranny, where the demagogue is inclined to start wars and other conflicts to bolster up his image as a leader. From our perspective, it seems muddled, for democracy must surely precede oligarchy? But the schemata is otherwise intact and sound enough, with only our contemporary notions of democracy at odds with the contention. The demagogue, says Plato, exploits a fear of oligarchy by the masses to establish his tyranny. He uses his power to root out whatever decent elements that remain in a society, leaving only the worst elements in key positions. It seems familiar, or it does south of the border. The whole sequence, conceived 2,300 years ago, can still be usefully applied to the gradual decadence of many if not most states. But what does it say of Canada’s continued, if reluctant, compliance with Washington?


Gore Vidal called his country the United States of Amnesia. They forget, they forget. But we forget too. We forget that not so many years ago Venezuela was being hailed as a new oil superpower, an oil-rich country set to wallow in riches from the earth the way the Saudis have been doing. Now Venezuela is a nation on the verge of disintegration, whereas under the socialist Hugo Chavez it could cock a snook at the behemoth to its north. What happened? Well, the US pushed its weight around at the UN and sanctions were imposed on the sale of Venezuelan oil, sending the economy into a tailspin. Sanctions are always imposed on countries said to hate their own people. But the sanctions merely reveal those who impose them also to hate that nation’s people, for sanctions have little effect on ruling elites, only devastating the masses. Canada, which has now cut Venezuelan visas by fifty percent, has had little to say about this criminal travesty. Why? Because Canadian oil prices benefit from the embargo on Venezuelan oil, as do US oil prices, and for that matter Russian oil prices and everyone else’s oil prices, except of course Iran’s, which are also under sanction, a sanction Trump is eager to keep in place. If one country is to emerge as decent and progressive in all of this, it will be the one whose leader is honest and courageous enough to say, “Enough of this! We want, and will have, a world free of greed and hypocrisy, a world where goodness alone produces truth,” as Socrates tells us can be the case with objects of knowledge, just as the Sun’s light enables us to see the objects of perception in the world.

Half-Light of the Antichrists


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Perhaps Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are not exactly friends in the normal sense of the word – which in any case is not something either man would understand less still seek – but let us theorise that they’re comrades-in-arms, at least inasmuch as they both represent an autocratic oligarchy which sees itself, and always has seen itself as rightful rulers of the earth. Accepting for the sake of hypothesis that this is so, what, you rightly ask, does either of them stand to gain from threatening a nuclear holocaust that would effectively render this planet uninhabitable for millions of years — unless of course you’re a hardy, adaptable and fairly basic organism? What indeed? As we stand at the threshold of what could well be the most serious east-west debacle since the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early sixties, it is worth looking at the benefits to both sides of, not actually going to war but of appearing to be contemplating it. I doubt if any government on the planet believes a nuclear war is winnable or even feasible – and this would probably be because it isn’t. Why then hold the constant threat of one over our heads, and spend trillions of dollars annually on preparing for one? What possible reason could there be for such insanity?


Here’s what. Firstly, it is a universally agreed truism that the most frightened populations always elect the strongest, most militaristic governments to protect them from usually unwarrantable fears. While this won’t affect Putin’s transparently phony democracy, the success or failure of Trump’s considerably less malleable but still far from truly democratic one will affect them both, for good or for ill. Secondly, the most profitable businesses in both Russia and America are involved in what we can loosely term the Military-Industrial-Complex (MIC), or in other words the privatized military-supply game, whose products now range from meals-ready-to-eat to missiles ready to fire (at $150,000 a pop). No product is so good a money-earner than a bullet or a missile, and everything in between that can only be used once before you need to order more. Now, both Trump and Putin are heavily invested in MIC companies, from, in America, Halliburton – once run by George Bush Junior’s VP Dick Cheney – to major hardware-builders like Lockheed-Martin and General Electric, for which Bush Junior’s Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld once worked in a senior capacity. In Russia the names are less familiar to us, but their owners or majority-shareholders are the same crew of oligarchs – some in Putin’s case operating partly as frontmen for him. Knowing this perhaps helps us to understand the continued and ubiquitous prevalence over the past seventy-odd years of wars around the globe, as well as the ceaseless threat of a superpower conflagration. That dwindled almost to nothing over the last twenty years, after the Soviet Union collapsed into bankruptcy, and the lull in business was clearly so disastrous that George Bush Senior even had to privatize the more mundane and utilitarian aspects of the lucrative army-supply business just to keep the dollars flowing into the hands of his friends and cronies. Even food was handed over to corporations like Halliburton, whereas things like peeling spuds were once an internal affair, and a useful punishment too. You’d think that security was one matter the army could definitely take care of itself; but no, now it is in the hands of private companies, whose operatives are paid ten times what the grunts get, and are also answerable to no government office at home. In Iraq, for example, these operatives robbed, raped and murdered with apparent impunity (at least none of them has yet be tried in a court of law). Putin et al were similarly busy in the resurrected and profligately capitalist Russia. One great advantage in this kind of business transaction is that the buyer never questions a seller’s price. It’s just taxpayers’ money so who cares?


It thus seems to me obvious that the astronomical profits to be made from war and, better still, the threat of war will be irresistibly attractive to those with the contacts and the funds to get involved in such enterprises – and usually to get involved fairly surreptitiously, so conflicts of interest and galloping corruption can be easily and vituperatively denied. Under Putin’s cunning aegis, the Russians got deep into cyberwarfare long before anyone else saw the virtues in it – and the results of this can now be seen almost daily in the west.


Those who imagine things are so much better in Canada ought to think again. Compared with the hundreds of millions spent on worthy projects, the hundreds of billions, or even the trillions spent on machines or weapons of death take up a goodly portion of the GDP – or to put it more bluntly our tax dollars. Do we really know who the actual recipients of this largesse are? In some cases we do a little. But mostly we don’t. I have always thought that a useful thesis topic would be the study of and interrelationships found in the boards of certain mega-corporations. When I briefly and cursorily looked into it back in the nineties I was struck by the multiple presence of the same names on different but equally significant boards. Then there were the monikers of certain individuals with profound contacts in the Canadian government registered on the boards of US companies with who Canada was doing very big business. I imagine that the same thing would be true today. Although now more than then it must be remembered that corporate loyalties are not national but transnational. They go wherever the money goes; yet that still does not mean a board member cannot make a vast profit by urging a deal between his or her native Canada and another entity based elsewhere. In fact the rise and rise of interglobal finance makes all kinds of skullduggery and fiscal flimflam easier rather than more difficult to enact. I wish some enterprising post-grad student would pick up this study of what is essentially who runs what and run with it themselves.


To conclude the hypothesis: Over the past few years we’ve seen Putin’s Russia almost gleefully willing to play the bad guy, the provocateur and belligerent, whether in Crimea, the Ukraine, England, Syria or in America herself. Why such shamelessly provocative and hostile acts? Well, it could be in wise recognition of the fact that America is far better at playing the alleged good guy in international squabbles and conflicts, since this is what plays well with the notoriously fickle US public. And it certainly adds to Putin’s domestic prestige as tough guy, standing up to the motherland’s incessant bullying by western powers. A friend of mine in Moscow tells me that Putin now genuinely believes his new and improved nukes can slide in the US undetected and impossible to intercept. I doubt it, but much of chess is bluff – and Russia always turns out grand master after grand master. All we can be sure of is that the endless threats, provocations and proxy wars will continue, and continue to make trillions for those in the war-facilitation business. The pity is that we, the people seem incapable of putting a stop to our end of this despicable trade and those involved in it.

Who Breaks a Butterfly Upon a Wheel?


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It’s a line by Alexander Pope:

Let Sporus tremble –”What? that thing of silk,

Sporus, that mere white curd of ass’s milk?

Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel?

Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?

Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings,

This painted child of dirt that stinks and stings;

Whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys,

Yet wit ne’er tastes, and beauty ne’er enjoys…


Sporus was a male sex-slave favoured by the Roman Emperor Nero, who also personally castrated him. The wheel is an excruciatingly painful instrument of torture and death.


Whenever you hear of politicians banning prostitution it’s always either due to feeble-mindedness or because elections are nigh. You can take your pick with the US Congress’s recent fantastically imbecilic and heartlessly cruel piece of legislation, which targets sex-workers, websites and newspapers running “escort” ads. Habitually gutless and unprincipled, these media immediately jumped when the ringmaster’s whip cracked down, dumping all such personal ads. Who cares? Such is the expected reaction from the housewives of America. Their hypocritical spouses know when to remain silent, even in the face of a monstrous injustice – well, most accept these as quotidian: after all,  they’re Americans. No one cares about the media losing ad-revenues, of course. Why would they? What we all should care about profoundly, however, are the many thousands of women whose livelihood has just been trashed, whose means of safeguarding themselves against psycho johns and intemperate weather has been ripped from under them, and who will now be forced to ply their trade under conditions of substantial danger, ill-health and chronic anxiety. Serves them right; they should get themselves proper jobs, you say. If you do say this, though, you’re a fucking bestial moron, unfeeling and mindless.


Prostitution may not be the oldest profession, but it’s definitely been around longer than politics – and it will be thriving long after the greed-heads in their suits and ties are scrambling over the world’s edge to flee society’s wrath. This current fool’s errand is largely an attempt by Republicans to play to their base among the trenchantly unchristian Christians and the immoral yapping moralists. Half the escort clientele in Washington are congressmen and senators – and you can be sure their female stables will be unaffected by the current bitch-hunt.


The new laws need to be examined closely, however, because they’re really not very new and of questionable legality. There are States’ Rights and Constitutional issues here, which we’ll leave to the Civil Liberties’ people. The two main prongs of this pincer attack are just anachronistic sheep in 21st-century wolves’ clothing – the garb being what it usually is: semantics, or language-harassment. Pimping, or “living off the avails of prostitution”, has always been illegal, just as brothel-keeping has in the majority of states. The same is true for sex acts involving minors. These three antiques are now cloaked in the new sex-crime tag that involves something called “sex-trafficking”. This makes it sound like the slave trade, of course, hides it under a cowl of more-frightening darkness; whereas in reality – apart from a few exceptions, statistically very few in fact – these villainous “traffickers” are just the same old low-rent pimps and specious petty criminals we’ve always had. And this is another time-honoured line of work, one that may seem repugnant and objectionable, yet also one that has its indisputable advantages and value for the women involved.


Accepting money for sex per se cannot be made illegal without potentially making every housewife a criminal. So what these laws have done is frighten a lot of often desperate, downtrodden women, removing the means by which they conducted business in reasonable safety. We can understand why the media fled in fear. You run a thousand sex ads daily and get charged with “facilitating sex-trafficking”, you’re facing a thousand very tricky law suits. Because you have no way of knowing what lies behind each ad – and you’ll have to prove in court that none involve any so-called trafficking. A nightmare – ruinously expensive too. So you have to shut them all down. Common sense and pragmatism demand it.


But a woman charged under this same act only has to convince a court she’s not being trafficked (or pimped) – case closed. Some 85 percent of sex-workers say they have no pimp or coercer. Yet the fear generated by these laws makes it all seem so much worse than it this. The really sad thing is that when you persecute the outcasts and underdogs of any society hardly anyone will step up to defend them. It’s the same with smoking and the “vice Taxes” (e.g. booze and tobacco).


These women are thus being scapegoated in exactly the same way as the Jews, gays and gypsies were in Nazi Germany. A conspiracy of silence was the enabler then, and it is now. No one has the guts to stand up in defense of these oppressed ladies. And all it’s about, most disgracefully of all, is winning votes from the prurient, the priggish, the hypocrites, and those self-righteous Sunday-Christians whose knowledge of scripture can be engraved on an eyelash and certainly doesn’t involve the frequent and compassionate attitude toward prostitutes Jesus is recorded displaying. As he says of the woman taken in adultery: “Let he who is without sin among you throw the first stone…”


I don’t know what American “fundamentalist” Christians believe, but it’s scarcely fundamental and seems contrary to every core teaching allotted to Christ. “Blessed are… Do unto others as you would have others do unto you…” In all the ranting hyperbole and twisted hellfire nonsense, I don’t see much Jesus at all. Hypocrisy may not be listed by Thomas Acquinas as a “deadly sin”, but it sure as hell is one. And hate is the worst one of all. These church-going, Bible-thumping sinners have another woeful strike against them too: How sad is it that they’re unable to perceive the self-serving machinations of their alleged representatives in the capital? How pathetic is it that these pious prudes think Donald Trump is on their side? God assuredly isn’t.


To all those women whose trade is their own flesh, I say: Chin up, ladies. It isn’t as bad as it seems. When I was a kid we saw postcards in doorways: FRENCH LESSONS FIRST FLOOR, or SWEDISH MODEL – RING BELL. No one thought it was about linguistics or Scandinavia. There never were, or ever will be laws prohibiting advertisements for language-tutoring and freelance modelling. An escort agency only providing dinner companions for ladies or gents alone in a strange city is not responsible for whatsoever their escorts do by themselves on their own initiative, and agents cannot be prosecuted for it. There can also never be a law against anyone in any occupation receiving gifts from and/or having a brief fling with someone they meet during the course of their work or leisure.


This most ancient of professions has always found a way – and it always will. But it would help now if someone courageous and principled, ideally a lawyer or legal authority, stood up and fought these two-faced, duplicitous scumbags back into the rank sty where they belong. But when the Mid-Terms are over in November it will all fade away… until the next halfwit or the next election comes around, naturally. In the meantime, America, try a little tenderness, thought and compassion – they work wonders. History attests to the fact.